My colleague Aristophanes believes Republican candidate Roy Moore will lose the upcoming Senate special election in Alabama. I’m not quite as certain. I believe he underestimates the power of the Republican brand in that state, as well as the passion of Moore’s populist base.
Because Moore can win, I believe it’s in his best interest to stay in the race. By dropping out, he would be doing a major disservice to both himself and his hard-knuckled brand of religiously-motivated arch-conservatism. If the Trumpist movement is to live on, and outlast its aging namesake, it must never surrender in the face of adversity — and it must prevail in winnable races such as this.
If he is true to the movement, Moore should stay in the race, as doing so gives Trump supporters a decent chance of enhancing the president’s sway over the legislature’s upper chamber. Those loyal to the president’s brand of conservative populism, including Trump himself, would best serve their stated goals by standing by their man. If Moore loses, the entire Trump philosophy takes a hit.
Moore is accused of non-consensual sexual conduct with minors. I believe most, if not all, of the accusers’ carefully reported accounts. While Moore’s alleged conduct is completely despicable, I don’t believe it’s enough to irrevocably damage his chances of success.
I agree with Aristophanes on at least one point: Many men simply won’t care about these allegations or even recognize how serious they are. It wasn’t their own daughters, wives, sisters or mothers being abused, so they are less likely to care when they don’t have a personal reason to. As Aristophanes previously wrote:
Judging by the Republicans’ enthusiastic response to the candidacy of President Donald Trump during the 2016 election, such sexual misconduct may not be truly disqualifying for most of the party’s voters. Trump faced accusations of assault from numerous women. Even worse, video footage emerged of the future president bragging about his sexual misdeeds, yet he won the electoral college nonetheless.
Trump performed well with men, racking up a sizable majority of the male vote. …
… It seems sexual assault is no matter for a majority of male voters. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s the truth. Everyone in Alabama should stand up to Moore’s sexual depravities. If history is any guide, a vast majority of male, conservative voters will support him anyway. It’s a foregone conclusion.
This analysis leads directly into my next point: President Donald Trump and his administration are already endorsing Moore, albeit in an indirect manner. As Trump remarked on the allegations this week:
Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You’re talking about, he said 40 years ago, this did not happen. … I’ll be letting you know next week [if I will officially endorse Moore]. But I can tell you, you don’t need somebody who’s soft on crime, like [Democratic nominee Doug] Jones.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed a similar sentiment:
The president, as I’ve said about seven or eight times, thinks this is a decision for the people of Alabama to make.
As did White House advisor Kellyanne Conway:
Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.
Recognizing Moore’s denial of the allegations while condemning the platform of his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, amounts to an unofficial endorsement. It’s possible for Trump to confront rather than befriend Moore, but doing so would only highlight the many outstanding sexual assault allegations against the president himself. This smacks of hypocrisy, especially as Trump’s alleged misdeeds are bolstered by video evidence of his own braggadocio. In terms of self-preservation, the president made the right call.
Additionally, attacking Moore does nothing to further the policy aims of congressional Republicans. For the president to condemn a member of his own party in what is now a toss-up election would ensure it would be more difficult to get the Senate to roll over on future legislative priorities. This is another reason why Trump’s immoral equivocation is smart politics.
Similarly, for Roy Moore to drop out would be to give the Democrats even more strength in a race that’s already a political anomaly. A ruby-red state suddenly becoming a toss-up or even leaning Democrat overnight is almost unheard of, yet it’s happening in Alabama. At least in the Todd Akin scenario of 2012, a comparison to this race drawn by many, the state in question, Missouri, was much less conservative. An upset in Alabama, one of the most Republican-friendly states in the country, would be much more costly — and could risk putting partisan control of the Senate up for grabs in the 2018 midterm elections.
What’s more, a loss in the special election, scheduled for December 12, would have immediate consequences. The Republican Senate majority is already slim enough as it is: 52 to 48. If that number slides to a mere 51 votes, Republicans could only afford one defection on fast-track partisan legislation and judicial appointments instead of the current two (Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tie-breaking vote). That would imperil any chance the GOP has of passing tax reform or repealing the Affordable Care Act before next year’s elections.
What is keeping Roy Moore in the race — and what forced Todd Akin to stay in his own Senate contest — is that he is already on the ballot, and it’s too late for the GOP to swap in another candidate. That deadline passed over a month ago, on October 11.
There’s a question as to what happens to Moore’s votes if he does indeed drop out. Many interpret state law as saying they would merely be null and void, leaving Doug Jones the winner by default. Some have considered campaigning for a write-in candidate, such as sitting Republican Sen. Luther Strange, who lost to Moore in the party’s primary election. But this route would merely split the vote, as many early ballots have already been cast, some, no doubt, for Moore. Even in Alabama, this would surely hand the race to the Democrats. Thus, while Moore has a chance of winning if he refuses to quit, his dropping out would certainly doom Republican chances.
Trumpism may yet continue independently of Donald Trump himself, but the movement won’t survive long if its candidates can’t even claim victories in states as conservative-dominated as Alabama. For Roy Moore to call it quits with less than three weeks to go is an act of political suicide, plain and simple. The consequence is not just a loss for Moore, but an existential threat to the very heart of Trumpism, itself. ■
For an alternative take, read Aristophanes’ piece: Roy Moore will lose.